Friday, September 01, 2006

The Red Pill

I have been thinking a lot about the subject of Peak Oil lately. If you have seen the Matrix, then you will understand what I mean by the title of "The Red Pill." I feel as if I recently swallowed the red pill and have woken up to a world entirely different than the world which I thought I knew.

I have always taken for granted that I would live in a world of cheap energy. I grew up in this world. Yes, the 1970s oil embargo happened, yet that was before I was aware of anything.

Why am I so concerned about this subject? Well, I realized how much of our food is not local. Although I shop almost primarily at the local farmer's market, a great deal of food that I eat during hte winter months are shipped to the local grocery store. This is what frightens me. I may be one person or fmaily who is trying to attain sustainability by growing my own veggies, preserving foods for the cold winter months, and shopping locally, but how many others are doing hte same thing? I grew up in a family where we shopped at the grocery store almost daily. I still shop at least once a week. I have to have wheat, rice, beans, oil etc that I can't grow - and have to purchase at a warehouse/grocery store/truck. Guess what? These items are shipped to me!

What does this mean? All of our food is dependent upon oil.

  • it takes about 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food eaten in the US;
  • pesticides are oil-based;
  • fertilizers are made from ammonia, i.e., natural gas;
  • Oil refined for gasoline and diesel is critical to run the tractors, combines and other farm vehicles and equipment that plant, spray the herbicides and pesticides, and harvest/transport food and seed
  • Food processors rely on the just-in-time (gasoline-based) delivery of fresh or refrigerated food
  • Food processors rely on the production and delivery of food additives, including vitamins and minerals, emulsifiers, preservatives, colouring agents, etc. Many are oil-based. Delivery is oil-based
  • Food processors rely on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, plastic trays, cellophane for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds. Many of these are essentially oil-based
  • Delivery of finished food products to distribution centres in refrigerated trucks. Oil-based, daily, just-in-time shipment of food to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc., all oil-based; customer drives to grocery store to shop for supplies, often several times a week

Everything we touch nowadays is made using fossil fuels: the plastics all around us, computers, telecom devices, extraction of resources (copper, silver, etc).

What happens when this cheap form of energy (oil) is depleted? I am not talking about totally gone - I am talking about when it is very expensive. How is our food going to be grown, delivered, processed? How will we get to our local stores?

I know that there are other possible sources of fuel. However, all other fuel takes a lot more energy to create. Oil is the cheapest, easiest form.

When considering the role of oil in the production of modern technology, remember that most alternative systems of energy — including solar panels/solar-nanotechnology, windmills, hydrogen fuel cells, biodiesel production facilities, nuclear power plants, etc. — rely on sophisticated technology. All of which require oil to produce energy to make these things work.

Most of the feedstock (soybeans, corn) for biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are grown using the high-tech, oil-powered industrial methods of agriculture.

The "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil. Without an abundant and reliable supply of oil, we have no way of scaling these alternatives to the degree necessary to power the modern world.
-Matt Savinar

Right now, we have no economic scalable alternatives to oil!

I think we should encourage our friends and neighbors to learn how to garden (think Victory Gardens from WWII), we should learn how to safely preserve our foods. We should get to know our neighbors and share skills.
Do we go on living the way we have been - or do we make personal changes in our lifestyles?

I grew up in a time of plentitude... what will the future be? I swallowed the red pill.


Charlene said...

Grow gardens, and maybe start shipping things in glass and cardboard boxes again. Yes, should petrolium get expensive, the way these things will change as well, but there are alternatives, and we can look to the past to try to find some of the answers, but we must readapt to our time...

Emme said...

I agree with you. I think that we should learn how to grow and preserve our own foods. I agree that it would be good to look to the past with adaptations to today.

Todd said...

It's nice to see that you are Peak Oil aware. IMHO you are quite accurate that hard times will fall upon us when the price of oil makes the cost of food very expensive. Not only are we going to have to deal with the issue of higher cost food, but the invariably high cost of gas will make it difficult for the commuting folk to retain jobs and houses.

I have mixed feelings in that I feel the energy scenario as it plays out probably will have cheaper gas and oil than people are predicting, simply because the depressed economy will mean less demand, which I feel will bring the prices of things down. And if our economy takes a dump, so will the rest of the world since ours is currently propping theirs up via the House being used as an ATM. Lower demand for oil results in the case that agriculture can continue for a while longer with not as much of a cost increase as if we assume current productivity (ie, consumption) levels hold.

Don't take that as optimism though, I fully expect things to be much worse at that time than now in terms of energy and food availability, just not as "19th Century" as some seem to think. Why? We have not lost our knowledge and experience, at least not in our generation, where we can figure out more efficient ways to do things. It will just have to be without the mass energy consumption model we currently live in.